Say Your Name Outloud
Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Gen. 10:8-9
If you are ever in the upper peninsula of Michigan you can go to the town of Watersmeet and get your picture taken in front of a high school gym with the words “Home of the Nimrods” painted on the side. I’ve done it with my kids. It makes for a funny picture. No, it isn’t graffiti; that actually is their nickname. Upper Michigan, of course, is an area where hunting is major part of the culture, so it makes sense.
Our picture is ironic and funny, of course, because we know the term nimrod to mean a silly dunce or oafish buffoon. The reason the word has come to mean that is because Bugs Bunny sarcastically referred to Elmer Fudd as a “nimrod” (a mighty hunter) after making a fool of him. So in modern parlance, which takes its cues from pop culture more than Genesis, the word nimrod refers almost exclusively to being a doofus, not a mighty hunter. The new meaning still makes sense Biblically, since Nimrod is usually credited with starting the Tower of Babel, which also ended badly. So should Watersmeet change their nickname? Tough question. History and tradition on one side, the inevitable ravages of time, change, and potential misunderstanding on the other.
What about our nickname here at St. Paul’s. When we have games in the gym with fans (those were the days!) the cheerleaders always say, “Stand up! Be proud! Say your name! Out loud!” and everyone in the stands responds “WE ARE THE SPARTANS!” Of course, the Spartans were pagans and were known as the anti-intellectual enemies of the more enlightened Athenians. What’s more, they lost to their main rival. So it is a tad ironic that a Christian school playing sports against rival schools would want to be the Spartans.
But to a great degree such criticism misses the point. Spartans are a part of the history of Western Civilization and their reputation was for fearsome athletic prowess. So it is a good name for a team. We shouldn’t change it just because there are objectionable things about it.
My alma mater, Valparaiso University is considering a name change. They are the Crusaders. But many of the students nowadays come from Muslim countries, and of course the whole point of the crusades was to take back the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors. So the crusades are still a sore spot almost a thousand years later.
I think Crusaders is a perfectly good nickname and mascot. We aren’t claiming the crusaders were morally pure and spotless as a wind-driven snow (they weren’t by any telling of the story). We aren’t even claiming that they won. Like the Spartans, they put up a good fight but eventually lost.
We might think we’re being humble by eliminating the people and events in our history that were very flawed and even in some cases just plain bad. But really it is an act of arrogance. We stand in judgment over those (admittedly bad) people through whom God bequeathed to us our place in His story. We ought not put ourselves in the place of judge over the people of the distant past.
This is especially true for Christians. God only works through flawed sinners. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob weren’t such moral pillars. But they are our patriarchs in the faith. Who are we to be ashamed of them? St. Paul called himself chief of sinners, Martin Luther said some really vicious things about Jews, and church history is full of great people who weren’t so great except for how God used them. We should be very careful about disregarding the accomplishments of such people because we think ourselves morally superior to them. Whoever you are, whatever your history, you can be grateful that God condescended to work through flawed people and institutions to spread the Word and bring it even to us. To be ashamed of the name God gave you is sinful pride at work. The right kind of pride is the pride that says we are who we are because of the working of God through sinners like us in history. Stand up! Be proud! Say your name! Out loud!
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Peace and Conflict
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. Matt. 8:8
Veterans’ Day, also called Armistice Day, illustrates two enduring truths. First, it shows that the human condition has not changed. It was at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month that, in 1918, the cease-fire was declared that set in motion the end of The Great War, also known as the “War to End All Wars.” After such unprecedented global bloodshed people naturally thought humanity had learned its lesson. They wanted to the holiday to celebrate peace and good will among nations.
Ironically, however, the Act of Congress that established Nov. 11 as a federal holiday happened in 1938, on the eve of WWII. The “Great War” of 1914-1918 had to be renamed World War I, because the even greater war of 1941-1945 (which really started in 1939 outside the U.S.) put the whole “war to end all wars” slogan into perspective. Peace and good will among nations remains a temporary, isolated, and fragile thing on the globe and the timeline of human history.
The second enduring truth of this day, then, is the need to honor secular vocations that address the negative effects of the fall into sin, especially those which demand that people sacrifice their own lives for other people. There will always be a need for soldiers, and those soldiers will always be deserving of respect. There will always be need for firefighters and police officers, too. Every vocation is a way to serve the Lord, and special consideration it given to those vocations that demand risk of life and limb. But Veterans’ Day is set aside specifically to honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Centurions in the Roman military system were, as the name implies, officers in charge of about 100 soldiers (cent, century, centennial, centurion, etc.). That means they answered to superior officers and gave orders to underlings with equal discipline. Jesus has several encounters with centurions in the Gospels, but He never tells them to quit their jobs. He tells them to do their jobs justly and honestly, and most importantly, as in the case of the centurion who speaks the verse quoted above, Jesus commends them based on their faith.
Any of us might learn to speak with the faith of the centurion. We are not worthy to have Jesus come into our lives, but we know that His Word of grace is everything. In the case of the centurion, his faith was such that he recognized Jesus as the rightful Lord of creation. He tells Jesus that just as centurions have to obey generals, and soldiers have to obey centurions, so reality itself, including sickness and death, must obey the voice of Lord. Jesus is amazed that the centurion has such faith and grants his request.
Centurions also, of course, play a key role in the crucifixion. But it is a centurion who finally, when all is said on done on Good Friday, says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” We, too, are sinners. The only saving grace for us is having a Savior by God’s grace.
This Veterans’ Day we can give thanks that our nation is enjoying a period of relative peace, perhaps not internally as arguments rage about the election, but at least in terms of warfare with other nations. And we can remember that all people including ourselves are fallen people subject to the human condition. We honor those who offer to defend us today, and should remember to honor those who serve in all vocations that help alleviate the effects of the Fall.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Like a Dream
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Ps. 126:1
Psalm 126 is about the return of the exiles to their home. For years and years, God’s people in captivity told themselves that some day they were going home. And what a great day that would be. They daydreamed about it, envisioned it, and built their homecoming up in their imaginations into something too glorious to describe. And when it really happened, they felt like they were dreaming. It felt as great as they’d thought it would. They felt like they must still be dreaming.
Have you ever watched people experiencing something they thought would never happen? May it is something they always thought would be too good to be true, something they talked idly about all the time only to be told, “Yeah, keep dreaming.” Then one day the dream becomes a reality. “Can you believe we’re actually doing this? This is really happening!” There is a surreal flavor to impossible goodness that somehow manages to materialize in our lives.
The really amazing thing about the Israelites returning home is that their home was in much worse shape than they’d left if generations prior. Yet it seemed too good to be true to them. Why didn’t it seem like that before they went into exile, when it was in much better shape? They didn’t walk around as though in a stupor about how great everything was before they left. But they do when they return.
Sometimes the things that are so good they seem surreal aren’t the amazing things that seem so impossible because they only happen to a few people, like being MVP of the Super Bowl and holding up the trophy, or getting elected president and sitting in the oval office for the first time. Rather, sometimes the very greatest things, the things so good we can’t even believe they are real, are the normal things that we’d thought we’d never do again. Someone recovers from an illness or some terrible accident, maybe someone who thought they might never again get out of bed or be able to walk. Then they recover against all odds, and they think, “Look at me! I’m outside! I’m going for an evening walk like it is no big deal. What a glorious thing!” They never felt that away about evening walks before, but now they seem so great as to be surreal.
Sometimes when you see the full effect of a gradual change it seems amazing. The kids return to school looking very different. If you see them every day you don’t notice. When several months of gradual growth and change confront you all at once, it startles you. “Look at how tall you got!” “Can you believe that is the same kid?”
This first day of school has always included such startling changes. And when you consider that we’re welcoming the students back after a five month absence, we’re confronted suddenly by an even greater amount of gradual change than usual. Added to it this year are all kinds of surreal images, like kids showing up in masks and getting their temperature taken before entering the building. What an odd sight. St. Paul’s students of prior generations would certainly see it as foreign to their experience.
On the other hand, the first day of school is finally here! It is a great feeling to be up and running again, and it makes us realize how much we took for granted in the past. The day will come, we pray, when everything is back to normal. But who knows? Things change. There is no permanent normal. As for today, as I listen to kids singing across the hall (though masks, standing apart, which takes a lot of effort to sound as excited as they do) I’m reminded that God is constantly restoring the fortunes of His people. His mercy never fails. No time of exile lasts forever. We can run as school as people who dream, not because everything looks so odd and different this year, but because we see in real time what we too often see only in retrospect, which is what a privilege it is to see God’s faithfulness and inexhaustible goodness in action in the lives of children through His church.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
The Next Generation
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Rom. 10:14-15
These famous words from St. Paul describe the chain by which grace from God gets to the individual Christian. That chain includes faith, the Word, preaching, and the congregation and wider Christian community. How will someone in the future be a faithful Christian? Because God will reach them through congregations that gather around preaching and teaching of the Word and send people around the world and across the generations to perpetuate it.
For a couple of years here at St. Paul’s we have been focused on the next generation. Will today’s little children grow up to learn the faith and pass it along? Forty years from now, will today’s six year olds be bringing their own children to church, teaching them the faith at home, and also educating them in the Word in a Christian school? Who can say?
But we can apply the same kind of chain reasoning to that question. Today’s six year olds will not mature in the Word if they cannot read. And they won’t learn to read without teachers and books. And there won’t be any Christian teachers or classrooms if the Christian community doesn’t raise them up and equip them. We can’t guarantee that anyone will believe the Word they are taught, but we can guarantee that they won’t believe it if they aren’t taught it.
Today we’re getting ready for another school year that starts on August 18. Covid, of course, has forced our faculty and staff to make major changes to our schedule and procedures, but through the faithful work of many people, most notably our principal Barb Mertens, who has followed all the guidelines and mandates closely and found ways to allow for safe, in-person school. We’re also dealing with some other changes. Our resource teacher, Mary Beth Hutcheson, and our 1stgrade teacher, Cathi Hansen, have retired. We’ll be recognizing and giving thanks for their many years of faithful service in church on August 16 when we rededicate the teachers for another school year.
Due to all the craziness this summer, at school and in people’s personal lives, we had less time than we normally have to plan the transition to new teachers. Thankfully, we have trained, experienced people in the St. Paul’s community who were ready, willing, and able to step in. Lisa Smith will be our resource teacher, and Zina Bachert will be our 1st grade teacher, and everyone is pulling together to make it a great year.
One of the last pieces of the puzzle is equipping the 1st grade classroom. We need the books and décor to make it a great learning environment. Yes, we have desks and chairs and text books. But we need the whole panoply of young reader books that learners need in order to excel. How can they read if they have not learned? How can they learn if they have no books? God has given us the teachers, the classroom, and the students. Let’s do all we can to make that gift likely to blossom forty years from now into yet another generation of faithful Christians.
If you are in a position to donate first grade level books in good condition or donate toward the purchase of books, posters, and classroom materials, please do so. Just mark the checks as for that purpose or give Amazon gift cards (even electronically), or bring the physical books to office. We can sort through and take it from there. I know I can count on the St. Paul’s community to be a strong link in the chain from God’s grace to individuals in the next generation of the Christian Church.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana